I'll watch anything Johnny Depp is in. First, I love his
acting -- it's a joy simply to see him enact a character on the screen. Which
ties into my second point: he usually chooses "characters" to play and interesting
movies in which to play them. So the expectation is always that Depp's character
will be strange, and the script will be slightly askew. So it's good to know that
, based off the novella Secret Window, Secret Garden
from Stephen King's Four Past Midnight
, is both written and directed by
the same person, and therefore more likely to be a unique and strange vision rather
than the safe and tepid retellings Hollywood normally provides.
And Secret Window
is not your normal horror movie. Oh, of course it shares
many qualities with that manufactured brand, but the overall arc, the work as
a whole, resembles more what you'd find nested in a horror magazine. The movies
it shares closest ties with I can't tell you as they'd signal the turn that the
plot hinges on (though we'll have to talk about that later, if only because on
that point also hinges the satisfaction of the movie experience as well).
I'd like to point out, for the benefit of the "Oh, this is
just like [fill in the name of movie here]" crowd, that King's novella was published
in 1990, so look before that for cinematic or literary antecedents. The two movies
that come to my mind are a Katie Holmes movie and a certain 1996 novel turned
box office failure turned cult DVD heavy-weight, and neither predates King's story.
The one I'm thinking of came out in the late eighties. Not
that I'm suggesting King stole my movie. Although, like that other movie I'm thinking
of, Secret Window
is a character study rather than an action fest. The
journey Depp's character takes is an allegory for divorce, for, more generally,
learning to deal with the end of a relationship.
resonates with the point of view of the main character, author
Mort Rainey (Depp), almost as though the environment is tainted by his loneliness.
His house, a wooden, summer-cabin palace on a lake, is full of space. The area
surrounding the house is a used land, now empty of people. He lives close to an
abandoned quarry, now filled with water, nature reclaiming itself by destroying
what was built upon (or in) it.
This environmental reflection of his inner turmoil probably explains why the movie
takes its most obvious detour from the thriller/horror genre: the movie begins,
essentially, with "the problem," i.e. creepy guy John Shooter. And what I mean
by that is, well, since the interest of the audience, and the movement of the
plot, all relate to Mort's direct experience, the movie needs to jumpstart his
freaked-outedness in order to get the audience involved.
Yewww stole mah sto-ry.
Man, that guy is creepy. Who let him in here?
Quiet. He'll hear you.
Okay, I think he's gone now.
Where were we? Shooter is sure as shootin' that Mort plagiarized something Shooter
wrote . . .
. . . and he wants redress.
John Shooter has the conviction of a backwoods preacher, the venom
of a copperhead, and the single-minded purposefulness of a witch-finder general.
He carries those things with him like a grudge. John Turturro, who plays Shooter,
puts menace into each word like razor-wire baked into a batch of shortenin' bread.
And the way he flawlessly sells the line "I'll burn everything in your life like
a cane field in a high wind", you know that any movie critics stupid enough to
mistake John Shooter for just another third-generation Deliverance
will soon find the barrel of a sawed-off scraping against their teeth.
Most horror movies begin with a teaser, of course, but rarely does
the teaser (random teenager getting killed) directly involve the main character.
In Secret Window
we follow Mort's haunting persecution by Shooter from
the opening silhouette of the man in a funny hat behind the door, up to the final
shot, a linearity not commonplace today, but well-used here -- it allows us to
be completely in Mort's shoes throughout the film, to experience normalcy interrupted,
turned stranger and stranger, just as he does.
Which is why, at The Plot Point Which May Not Be Named
, the movie falls
apart. All tension evaporates and, lo, there's at least fifteen minutes left to
go, a resolution that is not so much a resolution as a playing out of events that
are already foregone conclusions. I don't know if it would have been possible
to come up with solution to the plot that would have not been, after the fact,
like a Christmas present unwrapped carefully before Christmas morning and meticulously
rewrapped so no one knows but on the big day you still have to act surprised even
though you know it's just a new winter parka in a large misleading box so instead
of crying because you didn't get your Castle Grayskull playset you have to laugh
and then keep the pain inside because you don't want to ruin Christmas for everyone
Iah stole yahr Christ-mas.
Uh . . . What I meant was that there must have been a way that,
at least, the movie could have ended with the horror intact, the horror of the
incident we know will happen but aren't able to watch: the images in our minds
are often more powerful than what is shown openly.
However, the ending [SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH] is another major divergence from
the mass-produced horror of recent years in that it is amoral. It harkens back
to that older time of yore when films disturbed not so much by the graphic consequences
of actions on the screen but because of how the screen reflected real life, how
endings could happen that would not reaffirm the preferred ideal of the way the
world should be, and instead portrayed the world as is.
Removing the last fifteen minutes would cut off that disturbing argument but,
alas, would also make Secret Window
a more effective movie.
Wow. My experience of the movie was so different. Partially, that's
because, twenty minutes into the movie, I realized that I had actually read King's
Secret Garden, Secret Window
. It was a peculiar kind of let-down because
I went into the movie expecting not to know what was going on, and then it turns
out that I already know the ending, which is, as Mort points out, the most important
part of the story.
On the other hand, when I first read it, Secret Garden, Secret Window
blew my brains out (though, little by little, my memory of it fell away. In time,
the title of the story became a mystery even to me). The primary kick of the story
came from The Plot Point Which May Not Be Named
. In the theater, I wished
I could momentarily erase my memory, so I could watch the story unfold without
knowing what was inside. As it was, my previous encounter with Secret Window
allowed me to see the seeds that writer/director David Koepp was planting, seeds
that most everyone else won't see the first time around. I have to say I was impressed
with the journey, even though I already knew the final destination.
For me, the movie didn't fall apart at the end. I thought it was appropriate,
scary, and not an obvious foregone conclusion. (And I'm pretty sure it's not a
case of the reader filling in details that the director left out, because the
only thing I can remember from the novella is three or four plot points, and the
shivery feeling it left me with). For me, the ending of the movie was spartan.
Little fuss is made over it. Koepp disposes of the ending like a killer would
a body: swiftly, grimly, and dispassionately.
There are a few strange and wonderful aspects that make the movie
worth watching . . . maybe not in the theatre, but in the privacy of your own
home. One is Depp's Mort, which shares some of the darkness of his character in
The Ninth Gate
and a bit of the wackiness of his role in Pirates of
. Regardless of the quality of the movie, Depp always inhabits
his characters fully, makes them real so that you can imagine what they'd do outside
the movie, say, for example, how they'd order a cup of coffee at Starbucks and
what they'd complain about while waiting for the drink.
Depp absolutely refuses to act like someone who's trapped in a horror
movie. On the whole, it's a refreshing choice, although there were a few times
that I felt the director should have reigned him in a little.
Another reason to watch is that the soundtrack is by Philip Glass,
minimalist extraordinaire. His penchant for repetition and overlapping themes
never overpowers the movie's action but always supports it, needling in extra
emotion at all the right moments.
Something that hasn't been touched on yet is how sharp and witty
the script is. Of course, Depp brings it to life, but Depp certainly didn't improvise
of those lines. The movie doesn't just scare you, it makes you laugh,
and (usually) without detriment to the overall tone of the story.
There are a host of side-characters generally well-acted, nice
visuals, creepy music, a ticking clock, but none of these matter if the central
character-based dilemma fizzles.
There is a sequence near the end that is almost worth the price of admission to
see how Depp handles it. The beginning to the sequence is genuinely startling,
intriguing, and creepy, but, unfortunately, it is this sequence that ties things
up neatly, ribbon and all.
[HERE ENDETH THE SPOILER-FREE SECTION OF THIS REVIEW.
SKIP TO THE RATINGS.]
And it is this neatness which is poor, because the movie relies
on one character -- Mort Rainey -- and when his problems are resolved the story
ends, whether or not the plot continues.
Seen from that perspective, the last five or ten minutes (I'd be
willing to bet it isn't as long as fifteen) is a denouement. Because Secret
is basically a 90-minute episode of The Twilight Zone
from the Crypt
. In a half-hour show, the zinger and its aftermath would take
up maybe two minutes, but this is a movie, and we'd feel cheated if we were cut
off too quickly. Here the zinger is a drawn-out scene of revelation, confrontation,
and explanation. The aftermath is only three scenes. Three uncommonly short scenes.
The first of those three scenes (let's call that scene "Here's Johnny!") could
have been easily drawn out and infused with its own series of twists and turns
(and if this were a normal horror thriller, it would have been). It's curt and
matter-of-fact because Koepp knows quite well that it's all over but the crying.
is too simple to register as more than a minor entry in the
horror genre. But it is a good yarn well-spun.
Seen from that
perspective, I'd have to agree with you.
I wanted this movie to be more than an expanded episode, and saw glimmers of that
chance throughout. Really, I'm disappointed because the movie wasn't what I wanted
it to be, it was "too simple." Though, for what it is, you're right.
Well designed, well executed, but just a little short on ambition.
5 out of 10, or 7 out of 10 if you cut the last five,
ten, or fifteen minutes.
7 out of 10, ending and all
Sneezy the Squid:
Yewww stole mah ree-view.
What do you mean? Who are you?
Sneezy the Squid:
Yewww stole mah ree-view. Yewww know yewww dihd.
I'm the movie review editor here, so your beef's with me if anyone.
The "Where's the Beef?" Lady:
Yeww stole mah beef!
Mah stars. RevSF'll let anyone in their ree-views these days.
M-O-O-N, that spells "ree-view".
They won't let me
That's because you
Jason, This is getting out of hand.
I blame you.
Sneezy the Squid:
I wahnt yewww to fix mah ending.
That's our ending! We wrote it moments before you got here. We
didn't steal your ree-view!
Shut up, Andrew.
Sneezy the Squid:
Ke-ehp hihm tethered, unless yeww wahnt yer lives to
be consumed like two sticks of cotton candy in a storm of 3rd graders.
Fine, we'll give you what you want. Will you then leave us alone?
Sneezy the Squid:
Just fix mah ending. Then we'll see.
Sneezy the Squid's Rating:
8 out of 10, cuz it let him prak-tice his O
hick southern ak-cent.
John Shooter's Rating:
9.5 out of 10, because the theatre only served popped